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An Interview with Author Jeff Otis

Jeff Otis is an award-winning author and humorist whose short stories have been published in several anthologies. He branched into novel-length work with a science fiction debut, Raptor Lands: The Story of the Harrowing Return of the Dinosaurs (March 2024), that reviewers call “a captivating read” and “a thrilling adventure filled with dinosaurs, intricate plot twists, and a mix of compelling characters.” You’ll find Jeff on his website at JeffOtisAuthor.com and on Facebook.


What would you like readers to know about the story you tell in Raptor Lands?
Cantor, a paleontologist, and Kumiko, a geneticist, team up with a brilliant computer scientist named Arthur at Los Alamos. Together they determine which dormant genes in chickens and eagles were once active in dinosaurs and what those genes did. Then they activate them inside bird embryos. No mosquitos in amber. Cantor and Kumiko want to study dinosaur behavior and have no interest in making money. They move from Berkeley to New Mexico, where they set up a ranch with different areas allocated separately to the five big dinosaurs they brought with them (hence the name Raptor Lands). All the dinosaurs are of a type that lived 125 million years ago. But something went wrong. The dinosaurs were meant to be small. They aren’t.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
I had to balance the sub-plots around the main plot. When a sub-plot changed, it was like removing a specific thread from a rug and replacing it. That’s what I get for being a pantser. But the action and dialogue are fresh, gripping, and sometimes humorous. The book took two years to write, but it was spread over six years. Since this is my debut novel, there were challenges inside challenges.

Tell us a little about your main protagonists. Who (or what) are the antagonists in the story?
The main protagonists are Cantor, Kumiko, and their son, George. George is a special kid and his parents worry about him. He starts off as a bit of a bumbler with emotional problems. Later he shines. Without giving too much away, the antagonist (a powerful and dangerous oligarch) uses fear and money to cause errant genes to be placed in some of the dinosaurs, making them extraordinarily vicious. The meaner and bigger the dinosaur, the more money billionaires will pay. It’s a status thing. The dinosaurs were characters with their own personalities. One dinosaur named Mako was definitely an antagonist and some of the most intense actions centers around him.

Why did you choose New Mexico as a setting for the book?
I write what I know. I know a lot about dinosaurs, evolutionary biology, some genetics, humor, and New Mexico. The best place for a dinosaur ranch is away from people and cities. It had to be New Mexico.

Is there a scene in Raptor Lands that you’d love to see play out in a movie?
There is a chapter where two hapless and uniformed guys break into the ranch to steal a male and a female offspring that are about the size of a turkey. They are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Moms don’t like it when you steal their children. It would be chilling to see this on the big screen.

What makes this novel unique in the speculative fiction market?
It isn’t another Jurassic Park, but the genre is similar. The characters are unique, and I don’t know of another dinosaur novel that lets the reader get to know the dinosaurs like this one except Raptor Red by Robert T. Bakker.

What was the most rewarding aspect of putting this project together?
When I’m writing, I’m in my own world. My characters become real. Their adventures, fears, loves, anger are all real to me. I never have writer’s block. Every day I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen to Cantor, Kumiko, George, and other characters.

What lessons did you learn in writing/publishing your first novel that you can apply to future projects?
Agents are difficult to get and trying to find one involves an incredible amount of work. Never bore your audience. Keep them on the edge of their seats. Be sure readers are invested in your characters. Show don’t tell. Edit. Edit. Edit.

Besides being an author, you’re also an oil painter. Does painting affect your writing creativity?
No, but I did use 25 of my own drawings in the book. I’m also illustrating my second book.

What advice do you have for writers who are still striving for publication?
Hang in there. Keep trying. Expect rejection and don’t take it personally.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m almost finished with a book involving love, loss, technological breakthroughs, and the tragic paths people take. In addition, I have completed two books in a YA series.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kat has a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




The Writing Life: Rejection

by Sherri L. Burr


To write and seek publication is to risk rejection. The Los Angeles Review of Books published a story on March 26, 2024, about the rejection letters Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison wrote when she was an editor at Random House.[i] “I found it extremely honest, forthright, and moving in ways I had not expected it to be, but it is a shuddering book and one that offers no escape for any reader whatsoever,” Morrison said to one author. Her letter concluded, “You don’t want to escape, and I don’t want to escape, but perhaps the public does and perhaps we are in the business of helping them do that.” In other words, a story can be too miserable.

I received my first rejection letter at age 16. I had pitched a story to Guidepost Magazine about an encounter with my minister. The editor found the event less inspiring than I did. Many more rejection letters and emails would follow. Rejection can be hard on the ego, but never sending anything out risks never getting published. That can create a deeper blow to our internal psyche.

When I wrote my first co-authored book, Art Law: Cases and Materials, my co-authors and I were rejected by every major legal book publisher. After a smaller publisher offered us a contract, my male co-authors insisted on going back to every major legal book publisher to let them know we had an offer and ask if they would like to match it. That attempt to leverage a small offer into a bigger one failed. All the major legal book publishers rejected us a second time.

The reception was different for my next co-authored book, Entertainment Law: Cases and Materials in Film, Television, and Music. One small publisher accepted the book based on an oral pitch from my co-author and me. I insisted we first complete a book proposal to shop to all the major legal book publishers. The biggest publisher in the genre not only accepted our book but wanted a complete manuscript within a month. I was glad that we were almost finished with the book when we shopped the proposal.

As writers who help others, we also risk rejection in our charity work. Barbara Kerr Page, who I would later work with at the Albuquerque Tribune, wrote a letter to Tony Hillerman on November 2, 1975, asking him to be a judge in the New Mexico Press Women’s annual communications contest. Five days later, Hillerman wrote the following response:

While I’m complimented by your invitation (and the flattering way you phrased it), I’m going to have to beg off this fall. Last summer (when it seemed autumn would never come) I made a whole bunch of to-do things, and I’m now facing the fact that those speeches aren’t written and the deadlines aren’t met. Therefore, I made a pledge that I wouldn’t take on anything new until I keep the old promises.

I’ve enjoyed judging for the NMPW in the past and I hope you’ll give me the opportunity in future years when I’ve better learned how to plan ahead.

Three cheers to Tony Hillerman for knowing when his plate was full and to kindly say no. This is the kind of rejection letter that we can all learn from.

Like many authors, I consider the worst kind of rejection to be silence. I would rather receive a form letter or the return of my letter with the word “NO” in big letters than silence. With silence, you are left to assume your project has been rejected or lost.

With some of Toni Morrison’s letters, she gave helpful suggestions. According to the Los Angeles Review of Book’s article mentioned earlier, in rejecting a modern Western in 1978, Morrison wrote, “It simply wasn’t interesting enough—the excitement, the ‘guts,’ just weren’t there. I am returning it to you herewith.” What a masterful way to say the book was boring.

In another rejection letter, Morrison wrote that the manuscript was “put together in a way that made it difficult to enjoy. The scenes are too short and packed too tightly. Motives were lacking.” With rejection advice like that, the author knows it’s time to return to work.

Whatever is stopping you from sharing your work for publication, do not fear rejection. You just might receive helpful advice.

Equally important, rejection letters can help prove that you are in the business of writing. From a tax perspective, even if you have little or no income, you may still be able to deduct your expenses related to your writing business. Consult your accountant on the value of rejection letters to demonstrate you sought to sell your work.

Rejection letters also call on you to have faith in your work. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter was rejected twelve times. Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen’s first Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected 140 times. Tony Hillerman’s first book was rejected by one New York publisher who advised him to “get rid of the Indian stuff.” At the time of his death in 2008, more than 20 million Hillerman books were in print.

Once, I received a rejection letter from an academic publisher after my book had been published. It gave me great pleasure to inform the publisher that during the year delay, my book had been published and nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in History. I did not receive a response.

[i] See There Is No Point in My Being Other Than Honest with You: On Toni Morrison’s Rejection Letters | Los Angeles Review of Books (lareviewofbooks.org)


Sherri Burr’s 27th book, Complicated Lives: Free Blacks in Virginia: 1619-1865 (Carolina Academic Press, 2019), was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in History. West Academic published Wills & Trusts in a Nutshell 6th Ed., her 31st book, on October 31, 2022. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, Princeton University, and the Yale Law School, Burr has been a member of SouthWest Writers for over 30 years.




Author Update: Cassie Sanchez

Cassie Sanchez is the author of the award-winning The Darkness Trilogy, a fantasy blend of action, adventure, and romance. Conquering the Darkness (December 2023) is the final book in the series that wraps up Jasce’s journey of redemption and transformation to a satisfying conclusion. You’ll find Cassie on her website at CassieSanchez.com, on Facebook and Instagram, and on her Amazon author page. For more about The Darkness Trilogy, read her 2022 SWW interview.


In your 2022 interview for SouthWest Writers, you describe the story you tell in The Darkness Trilogy as a man’s journey of self: his purpose, his worth, and his values. When readers turn the last page of Conquering the Darkness, what do you hope they take away from the book?
We all have demons to battle, but hopefully we don’t have to fight those battles alone. Jasce, the stubborn man that he was, finally realized his worth and conquered those demons with the help of those who loved him.

What were your greatest challenges in writing the series, as well as bringing the trilogy to a close?
With each book expectations were raised, which increased the pressure to deliver an engaging and complete story, especially with the final book in the trilogy. I needed to make sure Jasce’s story had a satisfying ending. Also, my world grew with each book, so the new world building was a challenge. Plus, I didn’t really know where this story was going (originally it was going to be a duology), so I had a lot to figure out as I wrote books two and three.

What is it about Azrael, your main protagonist, that makes readers connect with him? Also, introduce us to a few of your favorite secondary characters, and tell us if  you share traits with any of your characters.
Azrael/Jasce Farone is a character who battles his demons, which don’t we all, but he does it with the help of his friends. One of them being Kord Haring, who is a Healer and a man who never gave up on Jasce. Another fan favorite character is Prince Nicolaus Jazari, who provided the comic relief while also helping Jasce with his mission to save Pandaren. I definitely relate to Jasce but also Kenz Haring, the love interest in the trilogy. I seem to have put a few of my characteristics in her, namely sarcasm and her love for family.

Give us some details about how the book came together.
Conquering the Darkness took a little over a year from writing the first draft to self-publishing, including receiving feedback from my Beta readers and ARC readers, plus a developmental edit and a copy/line edit from my editor. I also had a proofreader give it one more look before I launched Conquering. I can’t tell you how many times I read this book, but it was to the point that even I was sick of my characters.

In your fantasy land of Pandaren, which setting would you love to visit and which would you love to send your worst enemy to?
I’d love to visit the kingdom city of Orilyon, which is on the coast. I’ve always loved the ocean, so it would be a magical place to visit. I’d send my worst enemy south to Balten (a kingdom outside of Pandaren) because it has an arctic climate, and the people are a warrior race. That just sounds intimidating to me.

What was the process like working with both a cover designer and a cartographer? Do you have lessons you learned that you could share with other authors?
My cover designer thankfully did all three covers in the series so they would match. Karen with Arcane Covers is amazing to work with and very patient. A professional cover that correctly represents your genre is so important, and authors need to make sure they find someone within their budget, easy to work with, and reliable. As for a cartographer, the map of Balten in Conquering the Darkness was created by yours truly using Canva.

Is there a scene in your book that you’d like to see play out in a movie?
I’d like the whole trilogy to make it to the big screen or streaming service. That’s my dream, to see these characters come to life. If I had to pick just one scene, then it would be the battle in the cave against a new creature I invented. That scene is tense and a little scary, plus you get to see everyone’s magic.

Of the three novels in The Darkness Trilogy, which one was the most challenging and which one was the most enjoyable to write?
Each book was challenging for different reasons, but the first book, Chasing the Darkness, was the most fun to write as there were no expectations. I loved getting lost in a new world and meeting new characters. Conquering the Darkness was probably the most challenging because I had to make sure I wrapped up everything in a beautiful, tidy bow.

What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
Recently at the Albuquerque Comic Con, I had someone tell me I was the reason they came to the event. That made my day. Anytime a reader tells me they couldn’t put my book down and which characters they loved always gives me such joy.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m working on a spin-off story featuring a fan favorite character, Prince Nicolaus Jazari. Currently, this is a single novel and not part of the series. Or at least that’s the plan. Readers will get to travel to Alturia where the Shade Walkers dwell along with water dragons.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
Please stop by my website to learn more about my books and me, including all the events I’m attending this year. And if you sign up for my newsletter, you’ll get two short stories and a downloadable map of Pandaren.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kat has a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




The Writing Life: Consuming Thrillers

by Sherri L. Burr


I love thrillers. I love reading them and watching them on big and small screens. Webster’s Dictionary defines a thriller as “a work of fiction or drama designed to hold the interest by the use of a high degree of intrigue, adventure or suspense.” The Amazon Prime series Reacher fits the description. I watched each episode with the same rapt attention I had previously given to reading the Lee Child books.

Season One was based on the first book in the series, Killing Floor. Season Two was based on the twelfth, Bad Luck and Trouble. I often finish a Jack Reacher novel in less than three days, sometimes in one. They compel me to keep turning pages until every word has been read. After watching the two Reacher movies with Tom Cruise, a slender approximately 5’8” brunette, cast in a role of a 6’5” herculean blonde, I was reluctant to review the streaming series. This was even after hearing Lee Child said in interview with George RR Martin in 2018 at Santa Fe’s Jean Couteau Cinema that he had inked a deal to bring Jack Reacher to life with a different actor. But then a classmate, who knew I liked the Reacher books, sent an email suggesting I watch.

Actor Alan Ritchson looks like he stepped off the pages of the novels. The handsomely muscular Ritchson does not disappoint as the nomadic former Army officer with a penchant for bringing vigilante justice to lawbreakers.

In Season Two, Jack Reacher reconnected with his old army buddies to track down who is killing off members of their former squad. The minute an episode was available, I watched. Each of the eight episodes was equally entertaining.

I did not feel the same way about another Amazon Prime show, Citadel, which popped up as recommended after I finished Reacher. Fittingly, Citadel opened with a train wreck because the storyline was a train wreck. The series jumped frequently between timelines and time zones with little to distinguish between them other than a date. The actors looked the same and the settings were often the same. By contrast, Reacher used a different setting and color palate to indicate flashback scenes. Also, Reacher only showed flashbacks to advance the present story whereas Citadel whiplashed all over the place with limited connection between the scenes. The ending to Citadel was equally messy when it revealed (spoiler alert) the hero was the villain that caused the disaster. Yikes!

Curious, I looked up whether there would be a Season Two of Citadel. Even though Season One was considered a bust with audiences (apparently, my opinion was universally shared), Amazon renewed Citadel because it had invested $250 million in the first season. Apparently, the decision-makers never heard of “sunk cost,” the economic theory that suggests cutting losses when the original investment has failed. By contrast, Reacher, which cost much less to produce, became Amazon Prime’s biggest streaming hit ever.

Another book thriller recently caught my eye. Author David Baldacci released The Edge as a follow-up to The 6:20 Man. The second book in the series based on ex-Army Ranger Travis Devine was as engaging as the first. I listened to the audio version before deciding to purchase the book. Within 36 hours, I had finished all 403 pages. Baldacci’s character Travis Devine shares a professional pedigree with Jack Reacher. They are both West Point graduates who became officers in the Army and seek justice.

Consuming thrillers can be helpful to the writing life. By transporting us into other worlds, thrillers give us a break from current projects. With thrillers, we vicariously adventure to places and with types of people who would never otherwise cross our paths. Thrillers remind us to make our work compelling. We want our readers to consume every word.

Thrillers also prompt us to determine what is commercial. One author friend told me she won’t start writing a book unless she knows her publisher plans to purchase it because she doesn’t want to psychologically invest in creating characters she may need to abandon. Lee Child, and now his brother Andrew Child, create the Reacher books knowing there’s an awaiting audience.

Avoid the Amazon Prime-type decisions to renew a global train wreck like Citadel just because of the initial investment of time and money. Strive, instead, to create work as compelling as a thriller with intrigue, adventure, and suspense that captivates your audience from beginning to end.


Sherri Burr’s 27th book, Complicated Lives: Free Blacks in Virginia: 1619-1865 (Carolina Academic Press, 2019), was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in History. West Academic published Burr’s Sum and Substance Audio on International Law, 4th Edition, her 32nd book, on October 30, 2023. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, Princeton University, and the Yale Law School, Burr has been a member of SouthWest Writers for over 30 years.




An Interview with Author Dale Garratt

Author Dale Garratt is a New Mexico native and a longtime educator who has taught in schools across the United States as well as in South Korea. His travel experience and geopolitical interests informed the writing of his debut novel, The Peace Road: A High-stakes Geopolitical Thriller (August 2023), which is described as “an absolute nail-biter, fast-paced with cutting-edge twists and turns.” Look for Dale on his website at DaleGarratt.com, on Facebook and Twitter/X, and on his Amazon author page.


Dale, what would you like readers to know about the story you tell in The Peace Road?
The threat of a hypersonic missile attack by North Korea is even stronger now than it was two years ago, when I started writing the book.

The book starts with North Korea launching a hypersonic ICBM at the U.S., narrowly missing Los Angeles. This triggers a series of events leading to naval battles between the U.S. and China, which is the shadow behind North Korea. An underlying theme is the concept of a peace road: a literal road that could facilitate peaceful relations in East Asia. The novel also explores the path to peace in romantic relationships.

Who are your main characters and why will readers connect with them?
Ric O’Malley is the protagonist, a top quantum physicist at Sandia Laboratories and a Medal of Honor recipient. He is a really good person, and I think the protagonist in a thriller should be. He has a great sense of humor, a remarkable adaptability to varied situations big and small, and truly cares about the lives of others.

Ric’s wife Marie, a high school science teacher, understands that her husband is involved in events of national and international consequence but equally values her role in educating students. They have a great marriage but face a serious challenge in the course of the book. I think that many readers will relate to the realities of relationships and a career-life balance that the O’Malleys go through.

U.S. President Sarah Jacobsen is a tough leader, and at the same time is able to look at concepts out of the box. She may shed light on what it takes to make a great president.

Do you share traits with your protagonist Ric O’Malley?
Like most people, I like to think I’m a good person! I’m a geopolitical news addict. I’ve taught at several high schools in Albuquerque, and I am licensed to teach science. Ric has a PhD in physics and I have a PhD from University of New Mexico (UNM) in language, literacy and sociocultural studies. Like Ric, I have a very good marriage. But over the years we have experienced and resolved a challenge that occurs in many intimate relationships.

Describe one or more of the main settings.
Albuquerque plays a central role. Ric lives here and his team is based at Sandia Labs. In the course of events, Ric is attacked twice in Albuquerque by would-be assassins. Of course, East Asia is a main setting, particularly North Korea, South Korea and Japan. Also, the Western Pacific Ocean, where naval battles between the U.S. and China take place.

How did you approach your research for The Peace Road?
Fortunately, I have personal experience with East Asia. We lived in South Korea for eight years, teaching English to middle school and then university students. I was able to officially stand on North Korea soil with students at the Panmunjom Village on the 38th Parallel. I continue to read two South Korean newspapers and keep up with what’s happening in politics and the economy. I delve into online information, but I make it a point to read sites that present different views. Triangulation, as we teachers say.

One priority for me was making sure that the military technology used by all five countries in the book was accurate. There are great .mil and .gov sites for U.S. technology and very good intelligence about China’s military technology. For North Korea you can find “propaganda” websites and read a lot between the lines about its military, economy and politics. Of course, anything you are really interested in as an author can turn into a rabbit hole. That’s something you always have to look out for.

In 2022 I attended the Quantum New Mexico Symposium at UNM where UNM, Sandia Labs, and the Air Force Research Laboratory were featured. Participants were able to actually visit Sandia and see the latest research in quantum computing. We asked questions of the researchers themselves — it was the kind of thing you can more easily do in New Mexico than in other states.

What obstacles did you face when writing about the technology used in your novel?
The main problem in writing about quantum computer research is that it is advancing so fast! It’s fascinating but a challenge to keep up with. Yesterday’s Business Outlook (March 24, 2024) in the Albuquerque Journal featured an article that could have been written about Ric O’Malley. It was an interview with Jake Douglass of Sandia about quantum research there. He says in part, “[Quantum technology] is a field where we’re [NM] truly world leaders.”

What part do beta readers or critique groups play in your writing process?
I sent the first draft and new drafts to more than a dozen friends who are good readers and/or writers. They gave me some valuable and honest suggestions as well as many practical editing suggestions. Getting several beta readers is, for me, more helpful than just relying on a couple.

Tell us about your writing process or your writing routine. Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Both. I start with the overall shape of the book. While I’m doing that, I freewrite almost every day, putting down material that can make up chapters. Then I move from shaping the book to writing an outline. Then chapters fall into place in the outline. I write better in the mornings, and I make it a practice to schedule appointments and errands in the afternoons.

Who are your favorite authors, and what do you admire most about their writing?
I love Louis L’Amour’s westerns and Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances. In the thriller genre, I really like Tom Clancy — the actual Tom Clancy! David Baldacci’s Memory Man series has a lot to teach writers. My favorite author is Daniel Silva. His thrillers are almost always exciting, and the way he dives into a European locale is not only entertaining but also informative. One example is The Confessor with its fascinating deep dive into the Vatican and the Catholic Church. But like most geopolitical thrillers he has a European setting. It’s time now to include settings in Asia.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m writing book two of the Peace Road Trilogy. It takes place in North Africa and the Middle East. Religious, economic, political, and other major threads in this most ancient part of the Earth are woven together. It’s very exciting to me, and I hope it will be so for readers.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
In the midst of current geopolitical turmoil and conflict, there is hope. My book ultimately shows a realistic, doable path toward a permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula. And a real peace road there could be a key component.


Su Lierz writes dark fiction, short story fiction, and personal essays. Her short story “Twelve Days in April,” written under the pen name Laney Payne, appeared in the 2018 SouthWest Writers Sage Anthology. Su was a finalist in the 2017 and 2018 Albuquerque Museum Authors Festival Writing Contest. She lives in Corrales, New Mexico, with her husband Dennis.




Author Update 2024: Larry Kilham

Author Larry Kilham writes nonfiction and science fiction, memoir and biography, and poetry. He is also a world traveler with a love for climbing mountains in exotic lands. Himalayan Adventures: India & Nepal (August 2023) is his newest nonfiction release and second travel adventure book. You’ll find Larry on his website LarryKilham.net and blog, and on his Amazon author page. For more about his work, read his first SWW interview, as well as his 2019, 2021, and 2023 interview updates.


You’re a hiking and trekking enthusiast who has traveled across the world. Of all the places you’ve visited, why did you choose India and Nepal as the focus of your second travel adventure book?
As a boy, I was thrilled reading Annapurna by the famous French mountaineer Maurice Herzog and Edmund Hillary’s account of being the first to climb Mt. Everest. These mountains are both in Nepal, and India is a contiguous country and shares similar cultures. While not a world-class climber, I was determined to visit that area. I was also fascinated by Indian and Nepalese art and cultures.

Tell us about the journey from inspiration to completed book.
I wanted to write about my travels in India and Nepal. I started by looking through all my photos from that trip and found over a hundred that told a story. What emerged was a narration for a slide show.

If a traveler could only visit a few of the places mentioned in the book, which would you suggest they see?
Very difficult to answer. If you started in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, you could enjoy an awesome collection of art and architecture and meet many interesting people. From there, based on your interests and local conditions, you could travel to the various parts of Nepal and India described in my book.

Give us a few of the more interesting facts you uncovered while doing research for Himalayan Adventures.
Populations are exploding in all the areas I visited, even apparently in remote villages. Also, climate change is penetrating even the most remote and frigid areas.

While going through your stash of memories to write this book, what did you discover about your younger self or about what you learned on your journey?
In my youth I was intensely curious and energetic. Now my curiosity defers to my perceived knowledge and wisdom. I learned that when you want and can do such a trip, do it. Later, your physical problems, personal constraints, or local politics (including wars) where you might visit will block your trip.

Amazon categorizes the book as General Nepal Travel Guides, Travel Writing Reference, Travelogues & Travel Essays, as well as Mountaineering and Indian Travel. If you didn’t have the limitations of Amazon categories, how would you characterize the book?
This is the story of a young man’s journey to see and understand beauty in nature and other cultures.

Your writing has taken several forms – nonfiction books and articles, novels, memoir and biography, and poetry. Is there one form you’re drawn to the most when you write or read?
I much prefer reading nonfiction and historical novels, but I have enjoyed writing novels, memoirs, and nonfiction. Now I am drawn to poetry inspired by Wadsworth, T.S. Eliot, and others like them.

What can fiction writers learn from nonfiction writers?
Base your story on people and places you know. There’s still lots of room for imagination.

Is there something that always inspires you or triggers your creativity?
Writings by a great writer start my creative flow.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
Your “golden years” (I’m 82) aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. I can hardly walk, but I can still write!


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kat has a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




An Interview with Author Gency Brown

Author and fly-fishing enthusiast Gency Brown used her experience as a performing musician to help craft her debut novel A Right Fine Life (The Wild Rose Press, January 2024), the story of a young man striving to succeed in the music industry. Look for Gency on her website at GencyBrown.com, and on Facebook, Instagram, and her Amazon author page.


What do you want readers to know about the story you tell in A Right Fine Life, and what do you hope they take away from it?
I wanted to write about a boy next-door type making it in a tough world but sticking to his standards. It can be done. It takes tenacity, patience, and a passion for what you’re doing.

Who is your main character in the book? What are his flaws and strengths?
My main character is Randy Walters, a young man with a dream. He just may be too nice a guy for Nashville.

What is the main setting of the book, and why is it the best place for the story to play out?
The main setting is Nashville, Tennessee. As Music City, USA it is the center of the business that each young hopeful heads to for a career in country music.

Have you ever been to Nashville? If so, how did that experience affect the story you wrote?
Yes, I have been to Nashville three times and driven through on I-40 many times without stopping. My first time was with my dad in the early 1970s when the Opry was still held at the old Ryman Auditorium. We took a couple of tours of the city including stars’ homes. In writing the book, I was able to use my thrill at being in such a historic place and meeting country stars I idolized. The next time I visited Nashville was on a bus tour of the Smoky Mountains and the area with my aunt. The Opry had moved to the new facility by then, so I’ve been to both. My third time was in October 2023 and boy had things changed by then. Luckily, the time setting for the book utilized my memories of earlier visits instead of the glitz and glamour and very loud music coming from clubs. Good thing, since the book had already gone to print.

What sparked the story idea, and how did the book come together after that?
I wanted to present the life of a music star that wasn’t riddled with alcohol or drugs but would show the human side. It took two years to research and write and one to edit.

When did you know you had taken the manuscript as far as it could go, that it was ready for publishing?
Probably not until the publisher, The Wild Rose Press, sent me the contract. Every time I read it, I find something to change.

You published two short stories in 2022: “Sister” and “Ladies of the Quilt.” After writing short pieces, what challenges did you face writing your first novel?
My main challenge was knowing when to stop. After the word count limitations of short stories, I felt free and had to make sure everything I wrote moved the story forward.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
When I was putting the words on the page, the words flowed. Sometimes I had to get out of bed to put down an idea that couldn’t wait.

How has the creativity and discipline you use as a musician helped you in your writing journey?
Music is very structured. In its look on the page and the rules that create harmony. If you play this note, you have to play this one next. In writing, you make a statement or create a scene early on, it affects another twenty pages later. I can improvise, but in the end the words have to harmonize.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I am in the middle of another novel about a woman striking out to follow a passion for writing while looking for answers to questions in her life.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I am appreciative of the learning opportunities and friendships that come to me through SouthWest Writers.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kat has a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




Author Update 2024: Melody Groves

Melody Groves is the author of nine historical western novels across two series, five nonfiction books about the West, and numerous magazine articles. Her two newest releases, Lady of the Law (Maud Overstreet Novel #2) and Showdown at Pinos Altos (The Colton Brothers Saga #7), were both published in 2023 by Wolfpack Publishing. You’ll find Melody on MelodyGroves.net and her Amazon author page. Read more about Melody’s writing in her 2016, 2018, 2021, and 2022 interviews for SouthWest Writers.


Melody, 2023 was quite a year for you. You published two books in 2023 and won the Spur Award for the biography Before Billy the Kid: The Boy Behind the Legendary Outlaw. And in April, you took the leap from Vice President of the Western Writers of America (WWA) to President of the organization. Before we get into your latest publications, can you please tell us about your journey with WWA and what that means to you?
Also in 2023, Trail to Tin Town was in the hands of a new publisher (Wolfpack) who released the eBook and paperback versions of the book. And I won the Will Rogers Gold Medallion for an article in Wild West Magazine about Billy the Kid’s mom. It was quite the year!

The journey to where I am now was a crazy and circuitous one. I joined SWW about a million years ago and attended every meeting, took many classes, met publishers and accomplished writers. At one SWW meeting, I met Tony Hillerman and his friend, Luther Wilson, who was the head of UNM Press. Wilson published my first book All About Rodeo—because I got the chance to talk to him, while Hillerman was swarmed!

Then, two SWW members gave me a mighty nudge to join Western Writers. By that time, I’d had several articles published, plus the rodeo book, so it turned out I was eligible! I joined and am so glad I did. Just like in SWW, I went to all the annual conventions, read WWA’s magazine Roundup, asked a ton of questions and eventually was published again because of being face-to-face with publishers and editors at the conventions.

WWA members are of a like mind — all love Westerns and want to be multi-published. We want to keep the genre alive. When asked to run as Vice President, I was terrified and honored. There are over 700 international members, and I knew someday I would be president. It was a six-year commitment — two as vice president, two as president, two as past president — but I agreed to take it on.

After nine months as VP, I was thrown into the presidency after the president quit. The WWA board and members couldn’t have been more supportive. Everyone jumped into action, and I think the organization is stronger because of the initial chaos. It took a while for me to think straight, but with a new executive director (he and I work together well), I’ve been able to address some issues. I’m ready to move forward with this new year.

For those who are new to you and your work, can you give readers some background regarding your writing career and what that path has looked like?
I wish I could say I planned out my career and moved forward with purpose. Instead, I simply knew I wanted to write, and my favorite genre was Westerns (probably from growing up in southern New Mexico). I was the newspaper editor in junior high, on the staff in high school, and a journalism minor at NMSU (Go Aggies!). Writing was a natural fit. I took time away from writing to raise children and to teach in Albuquerque Public Schools. In addition to teaching Gifted (I have an MA from UNM), I taught 6th grade language arts/literature. I had students write during the first 15 minutes of class. So…to model appropriate behavior, I did, too. Sometimes, that 15 minutes grew to 20. My first novel was written in class. I left teaching over 20 years ago to write novels and nonfiction books, and now have 15 — soon to be 18 in June — with my name on them. I’ve written tons of magazine articles as well.

Lady of the Law is the second book of the Maud Overstreet Series. What was the inspiration for this series, and do you see it taking on the same lifespan as the Colton Brothers Saga?
I have no idea what the inspiration for this series was. It was another case of a character sitting on my shoulder, talking to me constantly, wanting her story told. She wouldn’t shut up, so I wrote the first book, She Was Sheriff. I did the sequel, Lady, because publishers like more than a one-hit-wonder, and because the story wasn’t done in the first book. I don’t see it running much past book three — which I haven’t started on yet. It’s in the queue, though.

Does Maud, in Lady of the Law, embody any of your real-life traits?
Funny you should ask. Yes, there’s a lot of me in her. I didn’t plan for it, but when the subconscious takes control, the writing flows naturally. I hope Maud comes across as honest and likeable (ahem).

Showdown at Pinos Altos is the seventh novel in the Colton Brothers Saga. Please tell us a little about this latest book.
I didn’t mean for it to be part of the series, but here it is. This is a book I’d written several years ago, put in a top drawer, pulled it out last year, submitted it for publication, and wham, there it is in print. It features the youngest of the four brothers and is set in the Black Range in New Mexico. I enjoyed writing it because I used to go up into that area when I was a child, camping with my parents.

I had read that during your years with the New Mexico Gunfighters Association that you “loved being the ‘bad’ guy.” Which comes easier for you when writing: good guys or bad guys?
Bad guys I find easier to write. I think it’s the writer’s inner demon coming out. The problem with bad guys is each needs a good trait—one thing to make them loveable, or at least identifiable to readers. It’s easy to go overboard making the villains really bad, so I find I have to scale back on making them especially gritty.

It’s important to give characters little quirks. Is this something that should be applied to both minor and major characters within a novel, or can it be overdone?
Quirks. I’d say yes to any character—except how minor is a minor character? If he/she is a “walk on,” then I don’t worry about quirks. But if they’ve got more than a couple of lines and somehow affect the storyline or main character, then yes, make them more “rounded” by adding quirks.

Your novels take place in several states. How do your settings impact the stories and the characters?
A setting in a Western is considered one of the characters. That is something that identifies the genre. Consider deserts—a cowboy rides through cactus and sand dunes—he’s got to survive which is a story by itself. Settings are crucial in Westerns, not so much in say, a bodice-ripper.

When researching for a book, do you travel to the location you’re writing about, or are you able to intuit much of what you need to make each story come alive?
Almost always I travel to the location, or I’ve already been there. You learn so much by exploring the area. For example, in Lawrence, Kansas, researching Kansas Bleeds, I would have gotten it all wrong if I hadn’t traveled there, talked to tourist information people, etc. The topography has changed since the Civil War. It’s important to get flora and fauna correct and you can’t do that well sitting at home with Wikipedia. If writers can’t travel there, I’d send for brochures or call the appropriate agencies. They’re happy to put writers on the correct track (been there, done that).

Now that you have several novels under your “cowgirl belt” or should I say “hat,” what marketing techniques have served you best?
Marketing is tough, especially in a niche market. I find standing there selling works best. I go to several Western events each year and my books sell well there. I attend the Tucson Book Festival and sell at the Sandia High School Arts & Crafts Fairs. I do surprisingly well there, too. I’m not sure if buying ad space in magazines is fruitful. The best technique is television. Radio, I believe, is second. If you can get an interview on tv, that’s money in the bank. I’ve done tons of radio interviews and I’m not sure if it generated more sales or not. It was fun, though, and that’s what life is all about.

I’m curious as to how much of a role you play in your book cover designs? How did you feel when you saw your first book cover come to life?
Ah, covers! I try to influence the design, but I don’t always get a choice. I’ve been fortunate for several of my books to even design the cover, but some publishers (I’ve had 7) want to do it themselves. As for my first book cover, frankly, I was disappointed. It was my rodeo book and I thought too dark. They wouldn’t use the photo I wanted because you could see the bull rider’s face and I didn’t have a signed release from the rider. But the book has sold well despite my chagrin. (Cover tip — ask for orange somewhere. Studies show covers with orange sell best. Who knew?)

Can you give us a hint as to what writing projects are forthcoming?
In June, look for my three books in a new series tentatively titled Nolan Brothers Ride Again, about three brothers in 1871 Texas who have their trials and tribulations. Each book features one of the brothers. This was a three-book deal with the publisher, the first two are done and submitted. The third book is due end of April, and they’re telling me the books will be published in June. Keep fingers crossed. I’m excited about this project as I’ve never written a story set in Texas.

How can readers discover your work?
My work is all over the internet. Actually, I am. I have a new website that makes it easy to purchase my books. Unfortunately, a couple titles are hard to find through Amazon as the publisher went out of business. I’m in the process of finding a new publisher for those. Some of my books are in libraries, which is exciting, and local bookstores.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I’d like to give some advice — if you want to be a successful author (your definition), you’ve got to talk to writers and publishers face to face. Go to conventions, meetings, conferences, on-line events. I know putting yourself out there is scary and tough, but that’s where you’ll find success — meeting people. It’s money and time well spent.

Thank you for reading this. I’m always happy to help. Questions? Send me an email to melodygroves@comcast.net.


Su Lierz writes dark fiction, short story fiction, and personal essays. Her short story “Twelve Days in April,” written under the pen name Laney Payne, appeared in the 2018 SouthWest Writers Sage Anthology. Su was a finalist in the 2017 and 2018 Albuquerque Museum Authors Festival Writing Contest. She lives in Corrales, New Mexico, with her husband Dennis.




2023 New Releases for SWW Authors #4

Jane M. Bardal, Mark Fleisher, Sue Houser, Paula Paul, and Cassie Sanchez represent the diverse membership of SouthWest Writers (SWW) with 2023 releases in the genres of biography, poetry, middle grade fiction, contemporary fiction, and fantasy, respectively. Their releases couldn’t fit in this year’s interview schedule, but look for new interviews or updates for most of these authors in 2024.

A list of interviewed SWW authors with 2023 releases is included at the end of this post.


Colorado’s Mrs. Captain Ellen Jack: Mining Queen of the Rockies (The History Press, May 2023) by Jane M. Bardal. “You get off this property.” In 1887, Captain Ellen E. Jack backed up her orders with a shotgun as she stood at the entrance to her Black Queen Mine. To profit from the mine, she engaged in many other battles with lawyers and capitalists who tried to wrest her ore away. Mrs. Captain Jack contributed to the myth of the West by crowning herself the Mining Queen of the Rockies as she entertained tourists at her roadhouse near Colorado Springs. This is a captivating biography of a pioneering woman who fashioned a legacy through true tenacity and maybe even a few tall tales.

Colorado’s Mrs. Captain Ellen Jack is available on Amazon.


Knowing When: Poems (Mercury HeartLink, March 2023) by Mark Fleisher. Under the mantle of its intriguing title, Mark Fleisher writes of sadness and tragedy, lightens the mood with poems about love, nature, even baseball, as well as a mirthful look at technology. Fleisher’s blend of narrative and lyric styles cut to the heart of the matter, showing the ability to speak volumes in a minimum number of lines. His eclectic collection also invites the reader to contemplate questions posed in the title poem and other selections.

You’ll find Knowing When: Poems and more of Mark’s poetry on his Amazon author page.


Walter Steps Up to the Plate (Kinkajou Press, October 2023) by Sue Houser. Walter will do anything to help his mother when she’ s diagnosed with tuberculosis, but does that include standing up to Al Capone? Twelve-year-old Walter wants to spend the summer of 1927 watching his beloved Chicago Cubs play baseball. Instead, Walter must leave everything he knows and loves to accompany his mother to Albuquerque, New Mexico — a place he has never been to with relatives he has never met. To help with expenses, Walter gets a paper route. But the situation gets worse when his mother is admitted to a sanatorium and needs expensive surgery. A chance encounter with the gangster, Al “ Scarface” Capone might change his mother’ s fortunes and get her the surgery she needs. But to do it, Walter will become indebted to the notorious gangster.

Look for Sue at SueHouser.com and on her Amazon author page.


The Last of the Baileys (March 2023) by Paula Paul. Trudy Bailey Walters, who is in her 70s, thinks the old house she just bought for back taxes might be haunted. Adam Bailey, who Trudy has known since childhood, says he will help Trudy find the source of the “haunting,” but he doesn’t want Trudy to know the truth. Although Trudy has no intention of taking in boarders, she soon finds several people living with her, including a young mother with a rebellious teenager and an undocumented immigrant who is searching for her child. While they all look for the source of the haunting, Adam convinces them to help find the missing child, including a reluctant Trudy. Illegal escapades, unexpected friendships, and startling conclusions ensue.

You’ll find Paula on her website at PaulaPaul.net and The Last of the Baileys on Amazon. Many of her other novels are available on her Amazon author page.


Conquering the Darkness: The Darkness Trilogy – 3 (December 2023) by Cassie Sanchez. Ultimate victory is won within the battlefield of the soul. Without his magic or his memories, Jasce Farone finds himself in the frozen realm of Balten, suffering the lingering wounds from his last battle and haunted by a woman he can’t recall. He tries to be the man everyone expects him to be—the one they remember—but the spindly fingers of revenge wrap around his heart while a past he’s never confronted escorts him further into darkness. In his journey, Jasce will need to trust those who fight by his side while battling the demons within if he wants to preserve magic and prevent tyranny from spreading throughout the land. If he succeeds, then a chance at love and peace is within his grasp.

Visit Cassie on her website at CassieSanchez.com, on Facebook, and her Amazon author page.


SWW Author Interviews: 2023 Releases

Marty Eberhardt
Bones in the Back Forty

William Fisher
The Price of the Sky: A Tale of Bandits, Bootleggers, and Barnstormers

Patricia Gable
The Right Choice

Cornelia Gamlem
The Decisive Manager: Get Results, Build Morale, and Be the Boss Your People Deserve

Joyce Hertzoff
Train to Nowhere Somewhere: Book 1 of the More Than Just Survival Series

Brian House
Reich Stop

T.E. MacArthur
The Skin Thief

Nick Pappas
Crosses of Iron: The Tragic Story of Dawson, New Mexico, and its Twin Mining Disasters

Marcia Rosen
Murder at the Zoo

Lynne Sebastian
One Last Cowboy Song

JR Seeger
The Enigma of Treason

Suzanne Stauffer
Fried Chicken Castañeda

Jodi Lea Stewart
The Gold Rose

Patricia Walkow
Life Lessons from the Color Yellow

R. Janet Walraven
LIAM: The Boy Who Saw the World Upside Down

Donald Willerton
Death in the Tallgrass

Linda Wilson
Waddles the Duck and
Cradle in the Wild: A Book for Nature Lovers Everywhere




2023 New Releases for SWW Authors #2

Sue Boggio, Sara Frances, Larry Kilham, Mare Pearl, and Vicki Kay Turpen are dedicated authors who represent the diverse membership of SouthWest Writers (SWW). Their 2023 releases couldn’t fit in this year’s interview schedule, but look for new interviews or updates for most of these authors in 2024.

A list of interviewed SWW authors with 2023 releases is included at the end of this post.


Hungry Shoes: A Novel (University of New Mexico Press, September 2023) by Sue Boggio and Mare Pearl. Maddie and Grace meet in an adolescent psychiatric unit after each has committed desperate self-injurious acts in response to years of abuse, neglect, and chaos. Together they navigate the surreal world of their fellow patients while staff provide nurturance and guidance to support their healing journeys. With the help of veteran psychiatrist Mary Swenson, Maddie and Grace come to terms with their pasts and discover the inner fortitude they need to create futures filled with empowerment and hope.

You’ll find Sue and Mare on their website at BoggioAndPearl.com.


Unplugged Voices: 125 Tales of Art and Life from Northern New Mexico, the Four Corners and the West (February 2023) is an illustrated four-color coffee table 324-page compendium of verbal narratives collected and edited by Sara Frances. Make a connection to 125 unique western personas, each in a five-minute read. Stories abound everywhere; but the threads of nature in and of The West, its independence, resilience, creativity, and beauty, weave together in unique revelation of life and land. Theses narratives are told as if the taleteller were sitting in front of you, across the kitchen table, around the campfire, on the front porch, or under the stars.

Look for Sara on her Amazon author pages here and here.


Himalayan Adventures: India & Nepal (March 2023) by Larry Kilham. This is a captivating account of the author’s adventures hiking and trekking in India and Nepal. The author was an international sales manager who lived for climbing mountains in exotic lands. His most treasured goal was the Himalayas. Northern India borders the Himalayas so a mountaineering trip included sightseeing in the classic Indian cultural centers of Delhi, Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, Khajuraho, and Varanasi. He experienced the splendor of human and architectural achievement of which the Taj Majal is only one. Kathmandu in Nepal has a limitless collection of Buddhist, Tantric, and Hindu art. His hiking and trekking excursions could be a to-do list for any newcomer to the area: Kashmir in the Indian Himalayas, and Pokhara and the Mt. Everest area in Nepal. He also describes other adventure stops on a round-the-world tour: Chitwan National Park in Nepal (home of the royal Bengal Tiger) and the mountains of Kauai in Hawaii.

Visit Larry on his website at LarryKilham.net.


Opelika Opiate (Austin Macauley, June 2023) by Vicki Kay Turpen.

Opiate — to induce sleep; to stupefy; to hijack the brain and change its normal function.

Opelika, Alabama — where cars, men, and race collide to unhinge the life of a young woman. Piecing it back together will require figuring out the role she played, and who she really is — or wants to be.

You’ll find Opelika Opiate on Vicki’s Amazon author page.


SWW Author Interviews: 2023 Releases

Marty Eberhardt
Bones in the Back Forty

William Fisher
The Price of the Sky: A Tale of Bandits, Bootleggers, and Barnstormers

Patricia Gable
The Right Choice

Cornelia Gamlem
The Decisive Manager: Get Results, Build Morale, and Be the Boss Your People Deserve

Joyce Hertzoff
Train to Nowhere Somewhere: Book 1 of the More Than Just Survival Series

Brian House
Reich Stop

T.E. MacArthur
The Skin Thief

Nick Pappas
Crosses of Iron: The Tragic Story of Dawson, New Mexico, and its Twin Mining Disasters

Marcia Rosen
Murder at the Zoo

Lynne Sebastian
One Last Cowboy Song

JR Seeger
The Enigma of Treason

Suzanne Stauffer
Fried Chicken Castañeda

Jodi Lea Stewart
The Gold Rose

Patricia Walkow
Life Lessons from the Color Yellow

R. Janet Walraven
LIAM: The Boy Who Saw the World Upside Down

Donald Willerton
Death in the Tallgrass

Linda Wilson
Waddles the Duck and
Cradle in the Wild: A Book for Nature Lovers Everywhere




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